Fire chief: Central Pennsylvania seeing an increase in ‘significant’ fires


HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Central Pennsylvania has been burned by fires this winter.

On Monday, 25-year-old Kelsey Shields died in a fire in Elizabethtown, and a Carlisle woman jumped out of a second-floor window to escape flames.

“Having something like this happen in a small, tight-knit community definitely takes its toll,” Elizabethtown police Chief Edward Cunningham said.

“Every one of us says, ‘well, it will never happen to us,’ and unfortunately, we see across Pennsylvania it happens on a weekly basis,” Harrisburg Fire Chief Brian Enterline said.

Fires have been happening quite a bit in central Pennsylvania lately. To get to the bottom of the ‘why,’ Chief Enterline said there are specific questions that need to be answered.

“What’s lacking? Why are these fires able to grow the way they are?” asked Enterline.

Enterline believes it may not be an increase in fires but rather an increase in fires that cause significant damage or injuries, but that comes with another set of questions.

“When I hear that, you know, people had to jump from a building, it tends to lead me down the line that we probably didn’t have working smoke alarms,” Enterline said.

His alarm bells are going off for another reason: the dwindling number of volunteer firefighters nationwide.

“In Pennsylvania, we’ve seen our number of volunteer firefighters to go from about 300,000 to 30,000 to 38,000,” Enterline said.

A decrease in firefighters means an increase in the time it takes to get to a fire.

“Are we having the same amount of fires — [or] they’re just growing exponentially because we don’t have enough folks to respond,” Enterline asked.

We might need a response from the top before things get better. Enterline said a fatal fire in a building with no smoke detectors is a predictable tragedy, but if there’s no enforcement, there’s no end in sight.

“Are we enacting things that need to be enacted — i.e. — sprinkler mandates, smoke detector mandates across the state,” Enterline said.

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